So the circle completes.
Back in 1982, Channel 4 launched in Britain. It was, believe it or not, the country’s first new television network in a generation.
I was fortunate enough to write a major series that aired the first year of Channel 4, entitled The Outsiders.
We featured all sorts of famous and controversial authors, politicians, and activists. One of them was Salman Rushdie. Within seven years Salman would be living in hiding, protected by armed police from fatwa-inspired Islamic murderers.
Now, 30 years after The Outsiders, comes a compelling and eloquent historical documentary entitled Islam: The Untold Story, written and presented by historian Tom Holland. I’ve read Holland for years and his books on ancient history are extraordinary. He is sometimes rather critical of Christianity, but hey, we live in a free world.
Or at least we did. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Holland found himself in “an underground but seismic debate: The issue of whether, as Muslims have always believed, Islam was born fully formed in all its fundamentals, or else evolved gradually, over many years.”
He opts for the latter, and also believes — as do numerous objective historians — that Islam was the product of the Arabic empire, rather than that empire being a product of Islam.
He also states that Mecca is only mentioned once in the entire Qur’an, and the Islamic view of Mohammed is extremely partial, and the prophet may not even have existed in the way we think of him. Oh dear, Tom, did nobody tell you about Rushdie, or Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, or so many other writers — most of them left-wing and secular, just like you — who thought they could criticize Islam just like they can criticize Christianity?
As soon as the documentary aired, the storm began. Almost 1,000 Twitter attacks, many of them abusive and threatening. The Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA) accused him of making “baseless assumptions” and engaging in “selective scholarship.” We’re all selective my friends, but few of us as selective as Islamic scholars, who in most of the Muslim world effectively ban serious critiques of Islam and Mohammed.
“Tom Holland’s assertion that there is no historical evidence for the seventh-century origins of Islam is historically inaccurate,” IERA said, alleging the presentation was “clearly biased.”
That’s simply untrue as there is plenty of evidence to support Holland’s thesis. The point, however, is that historical views, just like free speech, are not supposed to be governed by religious bodies and theocratic thugs.
Holland responded, “The origins of Islam are a legitimate subject of historical inquiry and the program was in keeping with other series on the channel where the historical context of world religions were examined.”
Oh stop being so logical Tom, please! The threats have begun, and once this story hits the mainstream in the Middle East and Pakistan, you might find yourself in a rather difficult position.
Because, whatever the deniers might claim, while we in the West have abandoned the idea of public blasphemy, it is dominant and growing stronger in the Muslim world and the Islamic diaspora.
Free speech? Wake up, this is not the CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie.